New Boyle flick 'Millions' fails to deliver
Millions Directed by Danny Boyle Fox Searchlight 98 Minutes B-
Danny Boyle's films have always had a common thread running directly though the hopes and ambitions of his main characters. They always seem to maintain the innocent and almost child-like notion that close personal bonds can protect anyone from reality, no matter how surreal or nightmarish it has become. His two most famous films, the heroin fueled cult-classic "Trainspotting" and the Romero-esque horror-themed social allegory "28 Days Later," built their themes around this reality.
"Millions" is Boyle's foray into children's film, bucking an unlikely PG rating for a director known for somewhat graphic content. It's clear that Boyle wants to add whimsy to his repertoire, trying to couple it with his trademark earnestness. While he succeeds in making the more complicated aspects of his newest film work quite well, he neglects to build them on a solid enough foundation.
"Millions" marks the acting debut of Alexander Nathan Etel, who plays Damian Cunningham, a young child whose obsession with Saints often turns heads, especially his own when he finds he is able to communicate with them in day to day life. Whether they are real or imagined is neither clarified nor particularly stressed-they seem meant to be the source of Damian's faith in human nature and the possibilities that lie in being good. One day while conversing with a saint in a makeshift fort of dissuaded boxes, a suitcase with over 200,000 pounds mysteriously flies from seemingly nowhere to crush to fort and shake the foundation of Damian's young life.
Revealing the secret only to his older brother Anthony, played by Lewis Owen McGibbon, the boys soon find themselves with divergent opinions on how to spend the money. Anthony, a clever opportunist, uses it to gain privilege and protection in their private school, eventually seeking to spend the sum on property and long standing investments. Meanwhile Damian, encouraged by his saint apparitions, seeks to give it to the poor at every opportunity possible, no matter how misguided his naivet? seems to those around him, especially Anthony. Anthony's rapport with Damian is by far the cleverest part of the film. Playing the role of elder brother, his eagerness to plan uses for the money cleverly masks his secret desire to forget the deep pain of losing their mother. McGibbon plays the part subtly and straightforward, letting the audience pick up on these overtones at the right times.
Damian's innocence and life are soon endangered when he discovers that "The Poor Man" he has tried to help, played devilishly by Christopher Fulford, is actually one of the robbers who attempted to steal the money on the way to its disposal. This is portrayed in a tightly executed, albeit awkwardly inserted flashback to the robbery with English rock band Muse frantically pulsating through the movie's soundtrack. Adding to this brew of repressed emotions and escalating tension is the boys' father's first budding romance after the death of his wife. Veteran actor James Nesbit's Anthony Cunningham comes off as well meaning and ultimately realistic as a simple man trying to protect and provide for his family. When he learns of the boys secret money stash before a devastating plot twist, his moral ambiguity feels more tragic because of his generally likeable nature and the knowledge that ill timed emergencies have marginalized him from even the events of his own life.
Boyle lets Etle's Damian carry much of the emotional weight of the movie, confiding in the young actor's innocence and lack of experience as added bonuses to his natural talent. While this decision is wise, Boyle's narrative is very inconsistent, never knowing when to shift tones in lighting, photography, and especially editing. From a technical perspective the film takes on too many different approaches of storytelling, but the performances of the leads go a long way in keeping the movie together. It is a shame that Boyle has no problem using what feels like three different ending points, leaving the film's conclusion without a real punch.
"Millions" actually finds a fair amount of heart in all of its confusion, showing that Boyle's work is often best when he lets his actors breath within a fair screenplay. However, the steadiness of his direction still seems in question, much too frantic to savor particular moments for too long a time.